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To Mars and beyond

Valencia engineering company works on top-secret projects for the aerospace industry and military

Posted: June 5, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 5, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Tri-Tek Electronics President Jim Gillson, back row center, poses with Tri Tek technicians who have worked on JPL’s mockup of the Mars rover, “Curiosity” at the company’s Santa Clarita facility. Tri-Tek, which is based in Valencia, has worked on numbers projects for aerospace-industry giants, such as Northrop, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and JPL.

 

When most people think of electronic wiring and cabling systems, they think of the pre-assembled, plug-and-play cables packaged with home electronic systems.

One local company custom designs and builds those systems everyday — but not for home use.

Tri-Tek Electronics Inc. often works on many top-secret, mission-critical projects for the military and aerospace industries.

Located in Valencia, Tri-Tek specializes in the design and construction of bulk cable for advanced multiconductor electrical wiring harnesses.

The 24-year-old company constructs complex systems for aerospace and military projects that ultimately explore the outer regions of the universe or protect lives.

Certified to meet system requirements for the military and aerospace industries, Tri-Tek works hand-in-hand with industry giants such as Northrop, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, JPL and NASA.

“We’ve been with Northrop since day one,” said Mike Fink, quality-control manager for Tri-Tek.

Friendly forces
When the U.S. Army developed a computer program to readily identify “friendly” from “hostile” forces on the modern battlefield, Tri-Tek designed the program’s “guts.”

Building sophisticated cabling systems for the computer program helped give frontline troops real-time knowledge of what is happening on the ground, in the air or on the sea.

The computer system connects, via satellite, with airplanes, ground troops, Humvee trucks and tanks, detecting anything that moves identifying it as an ally or foe providing on-site troops with greater protection.

Mars Rover
Tri-Tek has also had a long relationship with NASA and JPL working on the Mars Exploration Rovers/Landers, collecting vital information for scientists about possible life on other planets and the solar system at large.

Building both “flight” and “redundant” system cables and harnesses for each Rover, the company has helped to ensure successful explorations.

The company also helped send a Lander to the polar region to gather data on water content and soils for scientists.

Tri-Tek has worked with two other Rovers that are on Mars now. The next Rover is scheduled to launch from Cape Kennedy in February 2012.

“We’ve been on a crash program (building systems for the Rovers) for the past two years,” Fink said. “Normally, we take one to two weeks off around the holidays, but we haven’t taken a vacation in two years.”

Rocket ships
For the past two decades, Tri-Tek has been a key supplier for all ground support for the Delta Launch program. The Deltas are heavy-lift vehicles for the rockets that are launched into space.

Working with Boeing and United Launch Alliance engineers, the company has helped launched satellites with its cabling and wiring systems that keep the military aware of what is happening worldwide, protecting the county.

Military aircraft
In what was once only dreamed up in sci-fi movies, today Tri-Tek works with a number of military-aircraft projects such as the Apache and Osprey aircraft.

Equipped with state-of-the-art radar systems and fully integrated weapon systems, the Apache attack helicopter projects a false signal away from the aircraft so that any missiles launched at it follow the signal, not the aircraft.

The Osprey, a half-plane, half-helicopter aircraft, is used by special operations groups, allowing troops to quickly move into areas where typical fixed-wing aircraft cannot.

Tri-Tek also provides systems to unmanned predator aircraft, allowing the military to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance on the battlefield without putting soldiers at risk.

Challenges
There are many challenges maintaining and growing a sub-contracting company in the aerospace industry.

Tri-Tek builds prototypes and performs all the production that takes an idea from concept to reality.

Fink’s job is to make sure each customer gets what he orders. Tri-Tek is responsible for all inspections, tests, final tests, certification of materials and shipping ­— and for doing so without cost overruns.

“On time and under budget,” said Fink. “Those are the key words we live with. We’re on a fixed pricing basis. We won’t get paid any more than was approved in the bid.”

Tri-Tek, with about 50 employees, has an extensive in-house training program to keep up with frequently changing standards in the certification process.

It’s quite a challenge to keep up with the ongoing changes, Fink said, but the company continually upgrades and retrains its staff.

“Our customer base and the loyalty of our customers speak to that,” Fink said. “We don’t lose customers.”

Black box
Tri-Tek is a built-to-print house, meaning the company takes a print from a customer detailing the dimensions and material requirements of an aircraft or sophisticated military program and then designs the electronic wiring and cabling systems to make the unit functional.

Eventually, many applications make their way into the home. While costly, innovations in the aerospace industry later lead to applications for everyday life.

“The Tempur-Pedic bed first came out of the space program,” Fink said. “It was first used in the launch seats astronauts sat in as they propelled into outer space.”

The company manages a number of projects that they do not even know the ultimate purpose of, due to confidentiality requirements. The customer doesn’t reveal any information to Tri-Tek beyond basic material requirements.

“We do a lot of work on “black box” programs,” Fink said. “They’re top-secret. The customer doesn’t even tell us what they’re for.”

Tri-Tek Electronics Inc. can be contacted by calling (661) 295-0020 or online at www.tritekusa.com.

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